Therapy dogs have been working in schools for the past 5 years across the UK. However, they have been commonplace in schools in the USA and Australia for many years. Evidence indicates that benefits include:
- Cognitive – companionship with a dog stimulates memory, problem-solving and game-playing
- Social – a dog provides a positive mutual topic for discussion, encourages responsibility, wellbeing and focused interaction with others
- Emotional – a school dog improves self-esteem, acceptance from others and lifts mood, often provoking laughter and fun. Dogs can also teach compassion and respect for other living things as well as relieving anxiety.
- Physical – interaction with a furry friend reduces blood pressure, provides tactile stimulation, assists with pain management, gives motivation to move, walk and stimulates the senses
- Environmental – a dog in a school increases the sense of a family environment, with all of the above benefits continuing long after the school day is over.
- Reading to dogs has been proven to help children develop literacy skills and build confidence, through both the calming effect they have on children as well as the fact that a dog will listen to children read without being judgemental or critical. This comforting environment helps to nurture children’s enthusiasm for reading and provides them with the confidence to read aloud.
During the course of this year I have been bringing Harley into school, my 5 year old Chocolate Labrador. Harley has received training and passed his assessments in The Dog Mentor programme. This programme was founded in November 2014 by Jenny Duckworth. Based in Gravesham and Medway the Dog Mentor programme uses Animal Assisted Activities to help teach and engage children with educational needs working on areas such as self-esteem, behaviour, peer relationships and better engagement skills. It builds upon the benefits of the human/animal bond by providing children with positive experiences with dogs that can help them educationally, developmentally, emotionally and socially. Harley has proven to be very popular with pupils and staff alike at Shorne Primary School and these are some of the comments from the children themselves:
‘Harley has been helpful in cheering me up when I have felt very upset’, says Conan.
‘Harley makes me happy and reminds me of my dog and helps calm me down’ by Kai.
‘Harley has helped me because I talk to him and he always helps me get better and I love reading with him’ says Ryan.